Sisterhoods in Circles
There are many women that work in isolated areas, in rural and regional communities of Australia. And then there are women who just live and work in isolation, even within the city.
One thing women are good at doing is coming together, to share and talk, yet we undervalue this as an incredible resource.
Recently, I had the privilege of facilitating discussion with a group of women who live and work in the Yulara community (Ayers Rock Resort).
This was no ordinary discussion and no ordinary women. The organiser, Alyce Haack, recognised there was a missed opportunity for women to share knowledge. She received funding via the National Rural Women’s Coalition program for women in rural, regional and remote areas who are interested in leadership.
Her vision was to bring the wider female community of Yulara together.
On the recommendation of Minister Marise Payne, Minister for Women, at her pitch whilst in Canberra, Alyce changed the date of her event to coincide with International Women’s day. Minister Payne said, “To have funding specifically available from the NT Government for women who would like to do events like this shows phenomenal support for the future of equality within the State.”
The event introduced an international movement called the “Lean In Circles” and enabled the women of in the room to explore this concept. This was a space of authenticity, trust and confidentiality that is rare.
What are Lean in Circles?
Leanin.Org on its website defines Lean in Circles as: “…small groups of women who meet regularly to learn new skills, network, and encourage each other.”
Inclusion within a circle does not need to have a prescription of membership (although it is clearly suggestive that members identify as female). Yet what is fairly consistent with these circles is it is a space where women are given permission to be honest, vulnerable and to share without judgement. None of this can come easy.
So how do the circles work?
Typically, women will meet once a month to share and learn new skills. Most will be face to face, but some will be virtual. 86% of women circles say their group has made a positive impact on their life.
Lean In Circles allow for open conversation of discovery and the LeanIn.org site has useful resources or icebreaker games to trigger conversation by allowing women to answer personal questions they may draw out on a card. These are not questions designed to expose or embarrass, rather, to share insights and wisdom with others in the circle.
This method was adopted within the circles of women from Yulara. It was empowering to see how quickly these women warmed to each other and shared stories of resilience and empowerment.
Additionally, the Lean in method encourages action. It encourages women to boldly dream and in doing so, validate their goals by declaring them to the trusted circle.
In my life, I have been involved in many women’s circles. From women spiritual circles to professional circles, that have supported my personal and professional development
More specifically, what I like about professional circles is that it builds confidence and skill. Women don’t need to feel they must compete or become defeatist by their own comparison to others.
The first professional circle I participated in (we called it a Mastermind) we were encouraged to come in our tracky-pants and make-up free, so that we could lose the façade we presented to the world, to be real, honest and vulnerable. We didn’t always abide by this rule but felt comfortable enough to drop our guard. This created a space of open, honest sharing, free of competition. Additionally, I was able to problem solve personal or professional challenges while other women recommended solutions, resources or books to support my growth.
Nuala Murphy, a Circle Leader for a Lean In group in Belfast said, “When one of our members was struggling to find a job, for example, our Circle jumped in to help with interview prep and to make introductions.”